The Timberwolves signed free agent J.J. Barea to a four-year, $16 million contract Dec. 12. It was early in the training camp for this shortened season, and there was an immediate question:
What does adding Barea to rookie Ricky Rubio mean for Luke Ridnour's future with the team?
The public stance from the Wolves was that they could use three point guards with the compact schedule, but it seemed unreasonable that Ridnour -- a nine-year veteran set to turn 31 -- would be able to handle limited minutes as a third-string point guard.
Coach Rick Adelman was extra concerned with the Wolves' ballhandling and talked about the possibility of putting a pair of point guards in the backcourt for stretches.
Those stretches have turned out to be large hunks of every game, with Ridnour serving as close to a savior for this club. He has shot the ball well, he has taken over a good share of the ballhandling and, somehow, he has managed to survive defensively against taller, thicker off guards.
On Wednesday night, Portland was at Target Center and opened with 6-8 Nicolas Batum as the off guard. This meant Ridnour would be giving away a half-foot in size, 30 pounds in heft and who knows what in vertical.
When the game was over, Ridnour had 22 points and five assists and Batum had nine points and one assist.
"Luke's a solid player, and tonight he made big shots,'' Adelman said. "They were switching the pick-and-rolls, trying to force Kevin [Love] to roll to the basket. Luke got aggressive and shot the jumper over their big [defender].''
Barea was hurt in the second game of the season and hasn't been a big factor. Adelman went with Ridnour as his starting point guard for the first seven games. The Wolves' new legion of fans had adopted Rubio and grumbled that he should be the starter.
That didn't happen until Game 11, and then Adelman put Rubio and Ridnour together in the backcourt. They have started 28 of 30 games since then -- the two exceptions being games missed by Ridnour to be with an infant son dealing with illness.
"The great thing about Luke is that he is solid defensively,'' Adelman said. "We always put him on someone taller. He plays smart and fights the guy.''
Ridnour went 8-for-16 from the field, 3-for-6 on threes. That was the same number of threes made by the Trail Blazers in 23 attempts.
Even though they were satisfied jacking up jumpers, the Blazers remained within 90-84 with six minutes left. Ridnour hit a jumper to put the lead at eight, then blocked a shot by Wes Matthews, came away a with rebound and missed a layup in a stretch of three seconds. The crowd announced at 17,118 was in a schizophrenic burst of cheers and groans, before Gerald Wallace's jumper cut the lead back to 92-86 with 4 minutes left.
Ridnour followed with the game's biggest bucket: a three to put the lead at nine with 3:21 left. The Wolves got home free for a 106-94 victory that put them in the last playoff spot (eighth) in the West.
The Lakers are coming to town Friday, but Adelman is a coach fixated on what's directly in front of him. This was a chance to win a game, so Love went the whole 24 minutes in the second half and 44:34 for the night. Ridnour played 21 minutes in the second half and 37 for the game.
Ridnour was the guard running the pick-and-roll with Love when the game was being decided.
"They were switching on the pick-and-roll, and that gave me some open looks,'' Ridnour said. "Luckily, some of them went in.''
Ridnour is as soft-spoken as a pro athlete can get. He got caught up in the train wreck of 2010-11 in his first season in Minnesota and didn't do much.
Many followers of the Wolves were ready to send him on his way after Barea was signed.
Adelman was not, and undersized Luke has been a big asset: handling and shooting the ball and, remarkably, as a defender against the Nicolas Batums of the world.
Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. • firstname.lastname@example.org